Flower Garden Designs: Three-Season Flower Bed

A Flower Garden Design for Spring, Summer, and Fall Color

By Doreen G. Howard
October 2, 2017
Bleeding Heart Flowers

Bleeding Heart


Imagine a gorgeous flower garden drenched with color from early spring to the first frost of autumn.

A daydream, you say? Not anymore! This flower garden design fills the wish list of amateur and expert gardeners alike with …

  • Constant color: Spring flowers and foliage in burgundy, pink, and blue give way to yellow, orange, blue, and ebony for summer and autumn.
  • Effortless impact: This plot is almost maintenance-free. For at least five years, it will need no staking, dividing, or pruning—only fertilizing, feeding, and maybe a bit of weeding.
  • Easy adaptability: The plot size can be reduced or expanded to suit your space (and time), and these plants tolerate most climates, whether the first freeze occurs on September 10 or November 15. (Because most of these perennials need winter chill, this garden is not appropriate for subtropical climates such as southern Florida and southern California.)

Three Seasons of Color

Spring Color

  • ‘Black Lace’ elderberry
  • Rozanne geranium
  • ‘Foxtrot’ tulip
  • ‘King of Hearts’ dicentra
  • ‘Obsidian’ heuchera
  • Wine & Roses weigela

Pink and white tulips.

Summer Color

  • ‘Connecticut Yankee’ delphinium
  • ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia
  • ‘Mardi Gras’ helenium
  • ‘May Night’ salvia
  • ‘Mönch’ aster
  • ‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis

(‘Black Lace’ elderberry, Rozanne geranium, ‘Obsidian’ heuchera, and Wine & Roses weigela will still bloom.)

Heliopsis 'Summer Sun'

Fall Color

  • ‘Arendsii’ monkshood
  • ‘Mönch’ hardy aster

(‘Black Lace’ elderberry, Rozanne geranium, ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, Mardi Gras helenium, ‘May Night’ salvia, ‘Obsidian’ heuchera, ‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis, and Wine & Roses weigela will still bloom.)

Garden Ground Rules

  • The bed is 16 feet long and 6 feet wide.
  • The garden requires at least six hours of sunlight a day.
  • The 13 plant varieties are massed in numbers of each for maximum color and instant curb appeal. The plan is customizable to your best advantage, as a border or an island.
  • To create larger beds, double or triple the number of plants
  • If space (or time) is at a premium, cut the length of the bed to 8 feet, reduce the number of plants accordingly, and forgo the large ‘Black Lace’ elderberry shrub.
  • For a centerpiece in the middle of a lawn, place the elderberry and taller perennials in the middle and surround them with plants of shorter stature, ending with Rozanne geranium and ‘Obsidian’ heuchera at the edge of the bed.

Best Three-Season Plants List

A three-season garden requires three essential ingredients:

  1. Perennials that bloom copiously year after year
  2. Small shrubs with color-saturated foliage all season long
  3. Plants that do not spread aggressively

These characteristics are found in all of the following:

  1. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’)
    1 plant
  2. Weigela (Weigela Wine & Roses)
    2 plants
  3. Bleeding heart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’)
    4 plants
  4. Heuchera (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’)
    2 plants
  5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’)
    2 plants
  6. Ox eye (Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra ‘Sommersonne’, aka ‘Summer Sun’)
    2 plants
  7. Sneezeweed (Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’)
    2 plants
  8. Salvia (Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’, aka ‘May Night’)
    4 plants
  9. Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’, aka Rozanne)
    8 plants
  10. Aster (Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’)
    3 plants
  11. Tulip (Tulipa ‘Foxtrot’)
    40 bulbs
  12. Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelli ‘Arendsii’)
    6 plants
  13. Delphinium (Delphinium ‘Connecticut Yankee’ series)
    6 plants

Helenium flowers

Tips for Success Every Season

  • Before you start digging, arrange the potted plants on the bed so that you can get a general idea of what the garden will look like. Remember to leave space between the plants to allow them to grow wider.
  • Plant from the back of the bed to the front. Set shrubs and perennials at the same depth as they are in containers.
  • For a lush look, plant tulip bulbs thickly (about 5 per square foot of bed). After they bloom, remove the dead flowers so that the bulbs put their energy into storing nutrients for the next season rather than into setting seeds. Remove tulip leaves after they brown. Don’t worry about appearances; nearby perennials will cover up the aging leaves.
  • Fertilize if you want these plants to thrive. Scrape away any mulch from the base of each plant in the early spring and spread an inch of compost around the plants. In July, lightly mix bonemeal or a slow-release fertilizer into the surface of the soil above the bulbs. (Note: Bonemeal may attract rodents that will dig for bones.) Learn more about organic soil amendments.
  • Spread 3 inches of mulch over the bed. It will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Use an organic material (such as shredded bark or leaf mold), which adds nutrients to the soil as it decays. Cedar bark mulch is an excellent choice as well, because the resins in it repel many insects and prevent fungal diseases. Learn more about mulch.
  • Remove fading flowers to increase perennials’ bloom production. Shrubs drop their old flowers and will bloom again if conditions are right.
  • Do not remove brown foliage on perennials until early spring when new green growth appears. The dead material insulates plant roots from the temperature extremes of winter.
  • If you must prune your shrubs, do so after the shrubs flower, not in early spring.

Once your three-season plot is planted, be patient. Perennials reach their full size and beauty by the second season. Shrubs grow more slowly, reaching their mature size 3 to 5 years after planting. 

Do you have a perennial garden? What’s your favorite perennial flower? Let us know in the comments below!


The 2007 All-Seasons Garden Guide


Reader Comments

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Winter cold winds by the river

Can this bed survive by the river in zone 5a over the winter,cold wind off water?

Planting Time

The Editors's picture

The ideal planting time varies from region to region. A general rule of thumb: When the weather is cool and moisture content is high, it’s a good time to plant just about anything–early fall and late spring are typically best.

When to plant

I would love to plant this garden plan, but I don't see where the best time to plant is. I want to make sure I plant at the correct time! Thank you!!

10 1/2 ' by 5 foot bed

Do you have any recommendations on what plants I should remove to make this plan fit the flower bed size I have? I live in zone 8a is there any plants that I should substitute out?

Our Girl Scout troop would

Our Girl Scout troop would like to use this template to plant a Pollinator Garden at our school. Are these all bee friendly Flowers and if not could you suggest alternatives.

Is it too late

Is it to late to plant this garden in the month of July? I am in NYC.
If so, what can I do about gardening in July?

Partial sun version?

Love this plan but my area only gets full sun in the spring. As soon as the neighbors trees fill in my area goes to shade.. Do you have a plan for areas that aren't full sun?

you rock!

thanks for the response! You rock!!

Long flower bed

I have just built a tiered stone retaining wall along my driveway which incorporates a flower bed that is only 3 ft wide and 50 ft long. I really like the concept of 3 season flower bed and live in Virginia. Suggestions?

Select a few plants from each

The Editors's picture

Select a few plants from each color category above (spring, summer and fall) and then space them out in your bed alternating the plants so that you have nice blooms from spring until fall. The varieties in the front of our diagram are the shorter varieties and the once in the back are taller. Choose the varieties that will fit well with the height of the retaining wall.

This looks like a neat plan.

This looks like a neat plan. I wish there was a "real life" picture of what the garden looks like. I have 2 beds that are 2.5 x 28 that borders our fenced in veggie garden. I am looking for options for this space.

Your beds are narrow so we

The Editors's picture

Your beds are narrow so we suggest that you consider using the first two rows of plants in the design and repeating them the entire length of the bed. Depending on where you live you may want to substitute the tulips with som asters.


Could you suggest a way I

Could you suggest a way I could use this great plan with only 3 1/2 to 4 feet wide? Thank you for your help.

Hi Marion,

The Editors's picture

Hi Marion,

Just remove the back row of plants in the design. That should narrow the width of the row by a couple of feet. You can also replace some of the plants in the middle with some of the plants in the back row if you like. Good luck!

Daphnes Already There

I have two daphne plants, a rose bush, and rhododendrons already....how can I place these plants around or what suggestions do you have to incorporate this list?

Three season flowerbed

I love roses and I love your flower bed design. How can I incorporate roses into your design? Thank you.

Hi Linda,

The Editors's picture

Hi Linda,

We suggest that you plant roses in the #1 elderberry spot and/or #2 weigela spots. Choose rose varieties that will bloom early. Good luck!

Three season flowerbed

Thank you so much! I just moved to zone 8a so I think I'll use day lilies instead of tulips (afraid they won't go well here). Wish me luck on they three season garden! Linda

Help me create a beautiful yard

My house is all sun on 4 sides. What pants can I buy for all four seasons.

Help !!

Just wondering if someone can tell me where to get these plants? I havent heard of most of them. Are they something I need to order? Or should a Lowes or some nursery have them?

plants for flower garden

The Editors's picture

Hi Kimberly, Yes, many people go to a local garden nursery.  If you do not know any reputable nurseries in your area, you could always ask your local county cooperative extension: http://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services

Some people do show at Lowes or other garden centers for plants. In bigger cities, you might find that your botantical garden sells plants, too!

Finally, you can browse garden catalogs online. See our list here: http://www.almanac.com/content/garden-seed-catalogs-and-plant-mail-order-sources

You mentioned in one of the

You mentioned in one of the comments below that if you live in Southern climates, then tulips should be substituted by another plant. Can you provide suggestions on substitutions? And why wouldn't tulips work.

Tulips have to have cold

The Editors's picture

Tulips have to have cold temperatures and chill over the winter. If you live in a southern climate where this doesn't happen, tulips won't thrive. However, if you're willing to do the work, you can chill them in your fridge for 6 to 8 weeks before planting them. recommended varieties are Darwin Hybrids or Single Late varieties. Otherwise, look for a bulb that thrives in hot weather. How about the daylily or the dahlia?

When would be the best time

When would be the best time to plant this garden? I am live in zone 4 A

Shrubs and perennials can be

The Editors's picture

Shrubs and perennials can be planted in late summer or in the spring. Bulbs should be planted in the fall and any annuals in the spring.

What would be the average

What would be the average cost for this project? How much would the perennials be? How much would the materials? Also estate of how many man hours it would take?

Hi I have an area of 75 wide

Hi I have an area of 75 wide by 16 deep on a hill in muskoka ontario, and have a lot of deer in the area ! Any suggestions of plants for a three season bed that is low or maintance free and the deer don't eat the plants ? Need help thanks Vittoria

These are perennial plants,

The Editors's picture

These are perennial plants, flowers and shrubby plants, that should be hearty in your area and that deer generally avoid: allium, barberry, bee balm, bleeding heart, boxwood, columbine, daphne, daylillies, ferns, forsythia, foxglove, helebore, holly, lambs' ear, lavender, lilac, lily of the valley, spirea.
There is always some maintenance in any garden: weeds will appear (mulch to minimize), and perennial plants will need to be divided (but only every few years), trimmed, or even eliminated (if they take over).
We hope this helps!